The Carnation Revolution: A Peaceful Revolution?

Daniel Carvalheiro-Santos, Staff Writer

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The date was April 24, 1974. A revolution began at 10:55 PM in Lisbon upon the broadcasting of Portugal’s 1974 Eurovision Song Contest entry, “E Depois do Adeus” (And After the Farewell), by Paulo de Carvalho, a rebel by nature. This song was the first signal to spark a coup d’etat that would effectively lead to the redemocratization of Portugal. This signal would allow the Movimento das Forças Armadas (Armed Forces Movement) or MFA to synchronize their operations and prepare for the turbulent days to follow. The next day, upon the MFA’s take over of the government operated radio and television stations, “Grandola, Vila Morena” was broadcast. You may be thinking why a song became such a significant turning point in the revolution. Despite not being censored, this song represented a singer, Zeca Afonso, who was an outspoken critic of the Salazarist and Caetano regime. The Salazarist and Caetano regimes or the Estado Novo began in 1933 when the Prime Minister at the time, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, became President of the Council of Ministers. This new position gave Salazar unlimited and unwarranted power, leading him to become dictatorial and oppressive. By broadcasting this song over the airwaves, people came out into the streets, protesting against years of oppression.

Following these events, the MFA mobilized their forces and occupied several strategic points of interest such as the Lisbon airport, Lisbon’s main square, the Bank of Portugal headquarters, and Peniche Fort (jail for political prisoners). The leaders of the MFA, Salgueiro Maia and Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, then discovered that the President of the Council of Ministers (fancy term for dictator), Marcello Caetano, was taking refuge at Carmo, headquarters for a Republican force allied with the regime. The MFA and its forces surrounded the headquarters along with the hundreds of protesters that, despite being warned, joined the fight at their own risk. While inside the complex, the President of Portugal, Americo Thomaz, and the President of the Council of Ministers were planning an escape. Outside the people grew restless and began chanting and singing. This became a standoff which ultimately lasted 7.5 hours. From phone calls to private meetings, the President of the Council of Ministers, Marcello Caetano, refused to surrender to the regime that had controlled the Portuguese for 41 years.

The end to this Salazarist dictatorship signified the end of censorship, political police, a period of isolation, and poverty, and would begin a new era of innovation, economic growth (sort of), freedom, and education. Before the revolution, many were denied an education because of the need for workers in the many agricultural fields, only receiving an education up to the fourth grade. Many were unable to find work in any industry, and if they wanted to speak out against anything, there would be a prison sentence handed down by the PIDE, the political police. My grandmother, a native Portuguese woman, stated that “there were two sides to the Carnation Revolution.” She extended her statement saying that, “while the Carnation Revolution brought “liberdade de expressão” (freedom of speech) and an end to the Colonial War that had been happening in Africa for 13 years, the decolonization of Africa left many former colonies in disarray and confusion, with many Portuguese refugees, or retornados, returning to Portugal because it was not safe to live in Africa anymore.” The most exciting thing for the Portuguese people was the end to the Colonial War. The war affected many families who were unsure if their loved ones would return from the ultramar or overseas territories. My grandmother noted that many soldiers returned, “without arms and legs and with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” In addition, she commented that at first, there was so much freedom, that people began to abuse their liberties. This chaos proved to mark a tumultuous period in Portuguese history books. The newly awarded freedoms were only one of the results of this peaceful coup d’etat that brought the end to decade long war, the end of poverty, and prosperity to a small country with both a rich and turbulent history.

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